Thursday, February 28, 2013
I'm back! lol. Took some self-proclaimed holidays post the Chinese New Year celebration, fought the winter storm over the past week, laid back and rested and now I'm feeling all recharged! Browsing through my album, I reckoned I shall start off with this - Chee Cheong Fun (Steamed Rice Rolls) 猪肠粉. Something light and easy to write about, pleasant and soothing (hopefully) to read about lol.
My history with chee cheong fun started when I was a kid still. Back then chee cheong fun to me was steamed rice rolls of bite sizes that came served with just the sweet sauce 甜酱 with plenty of sesame seeds sprinkled on it. You get to pick the ingredients to go with the cheong fun - fish balls, meat balls, fish cakes, mini sausages, bean curd sheets (fuchok) and plenty more. Years later when I tolerated spiciness better, I started having them with some hot sauce on top of the existing sweet sauce (in a 1:4 ratio maybe). So that brought the cheong fun a different dimension; it is now packed with an extra flavor.
Then came another version of chee cheong fun into my life. Instead of them rolled, they came in sheets. Briefly cut, you can have them plain or served alongside a variety of yong tau foo. And instead of the sweet sauce, they came in a shallow pool of curry. Interesting...
At some points, dad introduced me to yet another version of chee cheong fun - his hometown, the Taiping version! This Taiping version has got to be the simplest version of all. Simple yet unbelievably awesome! There's the cheong fun in it; and there's the special red sweet sauce that came served with it. Oh, and it's loaded with fried shallots too. That's it! The red sweet sauce tastes very much like the red sweet sauce that is often served with steamed yam cakes. And as unique as it sounds, some cheong fun stalls actually sell those yam cakes too. So a lot of times, you'll see patrons slurping away plates of chee chong fun topped with yam cakes, all in a same serving plate. Even more interesting... lol.
An all-time big fan of chee cheong fun myself, it didn't take me that long to be craving for this when I moved here. And this featured here is a personal preference of mine; it's a bit of all those above mixed together. Rolled cheong fun with an assortment of yong tau foo and side dishes, drenched in both the sweet sauce and curry gravy with a dollop of chili sauce on the side and finished with sesame seeds and crispy fried shallots for garnishing. I haven't got the talent to be making my own steamed rice rolls just yet, so store-bought ones it is for now! Having tried a couple of different brands, the plain ones produced by the Canada Hung Wang Food Inc. has always been my choice. But someday, someday I shall live up to the challenge and start rolling my own in my kitchen lol.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
The bean curd skin packet 豆包 featured in this post is something that I have had my eyes on since the first time I spotted it in the Chinese grocer more than a year ago. Back then I had no whatsoever idea about what they really is, let alone recognizing them as the very soy bean product that I have always loved. Braised, deep fried, or stir fried, they make a versatile ingredient just like any other bean curd products. Not knowing much, I resorted to asking the employees there about it but unfortunately, even that did not quite result in anything particularly fruitful. Well, I bought a pack anyway and figured I'll just deal with it later! lol.
The idea of incorporating the bean curd skin packets into this dish comes from the idea of the many Chinese banquets that I have attended over the past years. A brief glance at it, you probably would agree that this dish has got with it a natural sense of attractiveness. With the emerald green broccoli floret lined in a circle encasing the rich and elegant content in the center, this dish carries a blooming-like feature; one that looks and sounds auspicious enough to make it into the menu of those Chinese banquets.
Those restaurant-level versions, however, come a lot more fancier than this simple version of mine here; they often include high-end seafood products (abalones, sea cucumbers, dried oysters, fish maw or scallops) served alongside a variety of other side ingredients - the lotus seeds, black moss, assorted mushrooms, all kinds of soy bean products (tofu, bean curd skin or bean curd knots among the few) and plenty others.
Plainly an experiment, I chose to have the bean curd skin packets pan fried for a start. The end result? They were awesome!!! lol. Crispy on the outside while retaining their softness and flavors within, they pair exceptionally well with the braised fresh shiitake mushrooms so richly infused with the flavorsome gravy and the broccoli florets that come with a light crunch surrounding them all. Simple dish, simple ingredients, huge satisfaction! Wrapping up the Chinese New Year Series, here's to everyone -
Happy Chap Goh Meh 元宵节快乐!
Friday, February 22, 2013
I probably won't call myself a big fan of yam, but the crispy yam ring is one that always gets my attention whenever it gets served on the table. There's just something really attractive about it. I'll attribute the attractiveness first to its appearance in general; it looks like a basket from an angle and a circular wall from another. But regardless of what it truly represents, having it served along any center dish of your choice will never fail in heightening the overall presentation of the dish on the whole.
As you dig into the dish first by tearing down the wall surrounding the dish, it reveals within itself the soft mashed yam coated all over by a thin layer of crispy and flaky skin. And then you move on to the overflowing dish at the center with part of its protective wall now breached. The kung pao chicken has always been my choice. With the mild and natural flavor from the yam ring, the kung pao chicken adds a little spice and kick with its fiery dried chilies and its ginger-garlic-and-onion accented flavors. And right beneath all these is a bed of crispy glass noodles lightly deep fried to perfection; they stay crispy until they start getting drenched in the savory gravy coming from the kung pao chicken. Drooling yet? Well I am! lol.
Something to share from my past experiences...
- SIZE There is not a specific size as to how big or small the yam ring should be. But the two things you probably should take into consideration is the number of people you are serving, and of utmost importance to me - the size of the wok, pot or the deep fryer you are using. Go for one with a moderate size (less oil needed to fill them up) and with a good depth if you could; getting the whole ring fully submerged in the hot oil is always easier than having to do them first in half and then inverted to get to the other half - less time, less hassle and less risk of them falling apart.
- THICKNESS The first time I made this, it was one with a relatively thicker wall. Not that they are bad. They actually tasted great! But for someone who is all head over heels with especially the crispy nature these yam rings have, I made a mental note to have it done slightly thinner the next time. Thinner - just so that the crispy skin:yam filling ratio gets slightly higher lol. So depending on your personal preference, the thickness is all up to you. If having it thin is your cup of tea, make sure that they are thin but not too much that they lose their stability when formed into a ring.
- TIME Making this involves a good hour of chilling the yam ring to let the shape set. And the good thing about this? You can start really early anytime in the day and just let the yam ring sit in the fridge until cooking time.
- DEEP FRYING Unless you are using a deep fryer with a basket easily lowered into the hot oil, deep frying this yam ring can be quite challenging a task. You wouldn't want to just drop the whole ring into the oil; the bottom gets burnt easily when it comes into direct contact with the pot/wok and lifting the fragile yam ring when it is done will be even tougher a job. You can use a sieve yes, provided the pot/wok is large enough to accommodate them both. So do plan ahead and look for a method that best fits you. I had mine laid out in the recipe part.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
My cookie baking history started with these peanut cookies. Back then I had months to spare before the start to my Uni years, so I got the chance to explore the baking world a little. Peanut cookies topped my to-try list then simply because of the two huge peanut fans I had always had at home - my parents. Apart from the hike in electricity bill over the months that I suddenly got so into baking, dad (my biggest fan then) obviously had no complains with the little enthusiasm kicking in me, despite it being a short-lived one lol. He was the first to peek into the kitchen and check on me (or rather the menu for the day to be exact lol) while I was busy whisking, mixing and baking away. Needless to say he was always the first to have a try at my baked stuff as soon as they were out and ready.
Since then I had had a couple more experiences with the peanut cookies. Each time was itself an experiment with different recipes that I could get hold of - my aunt's, the cookbook's and others online. I had been the good baker - making these from scratch, sweating over roasting and especially skinning the raw peanuts; I had also been the mediocre baker where I started my production line straight with a batch of readily roasted peanuts lol.
You probably will have to try both versions to taste for yourself if they really do differ and especially if the extra time and effort needed to make them from scratch is indeed justified. I personally do think that there's always a little extra and something great with those made from scratch that somehow are missing from those readily roasted ones. But having said that, oh yes I would do it the easy way still at times. Well this is exactly one of the times lol. Honestly I wasn't that keen with airing them in the yard in this freezing cold weather. But if you have got enough time and patience (and a good weather lol) to spare for the day, by all means do try it the good baker way. It will be a really rewarding experience!
If you are using the readily roasted peanuts, get those unsalted ones and be sure that you get hold of a real good and fresh batch of roasted peanuts to begin with. And if you are making them from scratch, this is how I had done mine in the past.
- Dry fry the peanuts in a wok over a medium heat. Keep the stir frying motion going to make sure that the peanuts have a fair chance to get in contact with the hot wok at all time. The cue to stop is when the fragrance of the peanuts is apparent and the skins start turning dark (some a little burnt and some with the skins start flaking off naturally even) revealing nuts with a darker hue within.
- Transfer the nuts into a large colander. You can use the huge round plastic food cover - the "tudung saji" (my favorite lol). That always gives me the best surface area to work with. Plus the holes are big enough for the removed skins to pass through easily retaining just the nuts.
- Move outdoor. We need a little wind here (and some fresh air for you too lol). To get the skins off, you will need some rubbing in between the peanuts. But with them still hot from the wok, press and rub them against the colander with a spatula. You can switch to working with hands once they have cooled down enough. With the skins so dry and flaky from the dry frying, they should come out rather easily.
- Shake and toss them high every now and then to allow the wind to blow off any skins removed. And to remove those skins nested at the bottom - pour the peanuts carefully and slowly into another huge colander from a distance high up while the wind works its way in blowing the skins away. Repeat until you have most of the skins off.
This recipe is one adapted from the recipe by Wendy at Table For 2....or More. Wendy noted in her post that the relatively large amount of sugar in her recipe is essential in binding the dough together well. But knowing well the sweet tooth I have in me and how it can only tolerate that limited amount of sugar, I had chosen to lessen the amount of sugar used still. In turn, I added a bit more oil to get the dough to the right texture. Halving her recipe, I made about 155 pieces of cookies in total. Not only do these peanut cookies taste so peanuty and smell all so fragrant, they actually melt in your mouth!
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Woohooo! Ngaku chips in d' house! lol. Finding the arrowhead here in the Chinese grocer would be the biggest discovery I have had so far in terms of my grocery shopping experience here where we live. Not exactly those large and pretty ones that often come sold in bulk with the stock replenished just so often back in Malaysia, those sold here came in a very limited quantity. So yea, they come and go in a snap! But hey, it's ngaku in Michigan! And that gets translated to some ngaku chips at home! Plus it's technically Chinese New Year still! They collectively make quite good a picture on the whole, do they not? lol. Contented with the only option I have got, I got myself about 2lbs of those. Happy happy me!
Ngaku 芽菇 or chiku 慈菇 in Chinese and arrowhead in English, these are seasonal starchy tubers with a natural hint of sweetness in them. With a texture very similar to potatoes, probably just a little grainier, they make a real good candidate for chips. Their existence in the market and especially during the Chinese New Year wasn't made known to me until I was in my teens when mom bought home a canister of the ngaku chips and got us all addicted to the chips lol. It was such an immediate hit! But they sure didn't come cheap. Soon mom started making her own having gotten plenty of tips from all the housewives and homemakers friends of hers in the wet market she frequents.
A real simple recipe with just the ngaku, some salt and enough cooking oil for deep frying, the challenging parts about making the ngaku chips lie in getting them evenly and thinly sliced and frying them to perfection with the right heat. Slicing has surely been made easy with the use of a good mandoline these days. But time consuming it still is nonetheless. As with the frying, patience will be all you need apart from getting just the right heat. Applying the same rules of thumb with all the deep frying delicacies, using too low a heat and you'll turn them into chips laden with oil; too high and you will get chips with burnt rims and the center of the chips mostly undone in the end. But once that gets under control, everything else should come easy.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
This is an extension to the previous post by the same name Somen in Pig Maw and Chicken Soup 猪肚鸡汤寿面, or an updated post on that specifically. A tradition of the Hokkien or Putien Henghua people 兴化人, this is what hubby grew up having at home, especially on the many auspicious days we Chinese do celebrate and plenty other normal days in between. A closely related version to the Mee Sua soup 面线汤 that I grew up having at home, the differences between the two lie mainly in the specific type of noodles used and the garnishing that comes with them.
Celebrating the Chinese New Year here in the States this year, I made it a point to bring this into the picture as part of our small celebration. The difference between this and the previous post on somen? Well this post will be an in-depth post on a more elaborated version of the somen, probably one that makes a better replica to my mom-in-law's version. It comes with a little more preparations yes, and a little more time needed for its making in general. Lets just say that the previous post will be what I call the simpler version to this. I'll still settle for that whenever I feel like having somen in a snap on some random days, and I'll go for this on days when I have the little extra time to spare for something a little fancier maybe. Specifically, they differ in terms of...
- The chicken breast Instead of serving the chicken breast as a whole, I have them out of the pot of soup about an hour before serving and shred them fine.
- The greens Previously I had blanched the Chinese mustard green (choy sum) and served them plainly as it is. This time I have them stir fried with some fresh shiitake mushrooms and sliced fish cakes before topping them onto the bowl of somen.
- The garnishings Mom-in-law's version always come garnished with some crispy fried fried seaweed of some great quality. Not there in my previous post, but it is this time. And yes, it does make a whole lot of difference! lol.
- The soup In terms of the pig maw and chicken soup, apart from the different types of mushrooms I incorporated this time (button and straw mushrooms as opposed to the enoki previously), they are all otherwise the same.
Quoting from my previous post on how to clean the pig maw:
1. Trim off any visible fat on the stomach lining.
2. Inverting the stomach cavity, scrape the lining with a butter knife, mainly to remove as much slimy impurities as possible. This is where it takes up most of the time with cleaning a pig maw. So do practice a little patience here, because once this is over, you are pretty much done. Keep the scraping going - rinse occasionally, and repeat all over again. My cue to stop? When you get less and less from scraping, you hold it better with hands (especially with the slime lessening over time) and the smell gets more tolerable.
3. It should be good to go now, but I usually do end mine with a bout of dry rubbing with corn flour in and out to remove whatever it is capable of removing, followed by a good rinse after.
4. Repeat the dry rubbing now with a good amount of sea salt. Rinse with warm water.
5. Blanch the pig maw in a pot of water for a minute or two. The pig maw will appear to set taking the shape of a pouch. Remove from heat and drain.
6. Bring a wok or skillet to heat on high heat. Bring in the pig maw and dry fry it against the wall of wok or skillet (my mom's golden piece of advice - it should further reduce the smell of the pig maw which I indeed find true!). Turn and keep moving the pig maw around the wok or skillet until it dries up and the skin gets slightly browned. Set aside and let cool. When cooled down enough, cut into pieces. Be sure not to slice them into pieces too small. Moderate size always gives better texture (I will recommend pieces measuring about 2"x1"). Set aside.
Monday, February 11, 2013
Also known as the Lor Bak 卤肉 to some, this has always been a must to me on Chinese New Year. I'm not exactly sure what the significance is; I just grew up getting used to the idea of having them as part of the meals on big festive seasons as this, probably a culture and tradition of the Hokkien. Oh yes, I am a Hokkien! lol. But on second thought, these spring rolls do seem to fit into the picture rather well. In China, the Chinese New Year signifies the beginning of the spring season and thus it is also known as the Spring Festival to some. Spring rolls in the beginning of spring, sounds kinda perfect in a way! lol.
These spring rolls is one that makes you hard to stop at just a single bite or piece. It always leaves you keep wanting for more each time! Well it is to me lol. There have been plenty of variations as to how they are done. At least I have seen all my relatives having their very own versions. Similar but not totally the same, they however carry the same concept - marinated minced meat rolled in bean curd sheets and served deep fried. Some are made with pork while some opted to have the shrimps added in. There's a version with just the meat rolled in; there's another version with bits of vegetables incorporated in it - water chestnuts, carrots, spring onions or the onions maybe. And to complicate matter a little further, everyone just seems to have their own seasoning formula! Complicated or flexible, I think the terms go interchangeably in this matter lol.
Starting our very own family tradition here this year, I made it a point to include these spring rolls in our menu too. The good thing about these spring rolls is that they can be made in a relatively large batch and frozen them up for later consumptions. So when you have had that done and stored away in the freezer safe and sound, knowing that will hopefully leave you with a little peace of mind as you continue getting yourself busy working on the plenty other meals throughout the Chinese New Year celebration. It sure did work on me! lol.
To my many readers who have witnessed my progress and development ever since I started this blog, I thank you so very much for the endless support to keep me going! Even that seems so inadequate.
And particularly to those who celebrate the Chinese New Year, Happy Chinese New Year!
Thursday, February 7, 2013
These almond things are so unbelievably addictive! I fought so hard to refrain myself from nibbling on them the moment they are out of the oven. I went all "Hmm, this looks a little too brown for the jar of cookies. Mine it is! And that too, I think... nom nom nom" lol. At the end of it, each hue of brown just seems like they fit my appetite much better than they fit the final jar. Seriously! It is that bad! Totally unusual! Other times of any usual day, I would have spent so much time working on it and seeing it I hardly would have any appetite left for those baking stuff, at least not until the next morning. This is such an exceptional case!
I have never been a real big fan of this. I like having them when I actually have them, not particularly missing them when they have gone missing lol. But this time around, I think I am pretty sure that I'll be adding this to my list of favorite cookies. And the fact that it's one totally doable at home - that is a huge plus! A little patience and a little time if all that you need to get these crisps done. The credit goes to Lee Ping from Stream in the Hip Desert 新荒漠甘泉. Simple ingredients with just the almond flakes, egg whites, oil, sugar and flour, you'll be amazed with how well they blend with one another to give you a batch of relatively healthy, crispy and totally addictive almond thins. A snack simply made perfect for the festive season!
My two cents' worth:
- Fresh! Fresh! Fresh! Get real good quality of almond flakes with freshness at their best! That being the key ingredient to these almond thins, a good batch will have won you half the battle.
- Get it buttery! If you wanted them a little buttery (ooooh butter is yummy lol), have the oil substituted with melted butter instead. I may just do this the next time I'm at this again.
- Spread it thin! I had to make this twice before I managed to get hold of the flow in its making and got myself to the right thickness (or thinness lol). The first time I had the batter spread out on one single 10"x5" baking sheet. It seems to fit just so perfectly. But nope. As little as the batter seems, it needed a lot more space than that. This second time, I divided the batter into two batches. That gave me plenty of space to spread them really thin, paper-thin! Voila! Perfect almond thins, brittle, crispy, you name it! Double time needed yes, but the pleasure at the end of it had also more than doubled! lol.
- Single layer of flakes. As much as a mouthful of almond flakes in each bites seems like a big WOW, limit the flakes. Almond flakes spread out evenly in a single layer gives you a real thin layer, a little more elegance in its final appearance and of utmost importance, a more even color and time needed to bake them in general.
- Protect the sides! The sides and corners of the batter will be first few areas to turn brown. Don't let them go to waste (they are so precious! lol). Cover it up loosely with strips of aluminium foil before you put them into the oven.
Let's yummmmmm away....
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
It's 4 days to Chinese New Year! I'm so gonna take a little break from all the cookie baking and making lol. Thinking of something light and easy to slip in between, this Chilled Mango Puree with Sago & Pomelo 杨枝甘露 instantly crossed my mind. With a name so auspicious in accordance with the Chinese New Year theme, I think it makes all sense to be featuring it as a part of the Chinese New Year series. This is a dessert so popular in Hong Kong it's simply hard to miss. Needless to say I had my first taste of it there a couple of years back and again the year after. This dessert has since became THE DESSERT in between hubby and I. A love token between us, as how he would call it lol.
With so much time already spent on spring cleaning, baking, shopping, decorating, cooking and preparing for the Lunar New Year, this dessert comes with a plus that you and I and everyone else will appreciate. You and I - because needing minimal preparation, this dessert can be prepared in advance, easily assembled and served in a snap! And as for everyone else - we know how dessert can hardly go wrong with mangoes. Light and refreshing, rich, creamy and cold, sweet with a light hint of tartness not forgetting its prominent golden hue, this makes a good dessert to a perfect Chinese New Year meal. It will be a hit!
Oh, and talking about love, it's Valentine's Day just four nights of sleep from Day 1 of Chinese New Year! If you are not so into Chinese New Year, maybe this is what you can consider for the Valentine's Day instead! Or forget about having to have a reason to make this at all. It makes an all-time perfect dessert on any given day! At least it is to me lol. The credit goes to Noob Cook who in turn had adapted the recipe from Zurynee at Quick 'n' Easy Treats from Zu's Kitchen. Personally preferring a version a little less sweeter and a little more sour, I'm more than contented with the dessert not having any additional simple syrup added in. But if you are one with a strong sweet tooth, by all means have it a little further sweetened as per the original recipe and it's good to go!
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
More Chinese New Year cookies!!! Beehive cookies, honeycomb cookies, kuih loyang, kuih rose or we call it "kueh lobang" (in Hokkien) even, seeing these cookies makes the perfect indication that that the big festive season is just around the corner. My maternal grandma loved this, mom and all her sisters loves this and I loooove this. Sounds like something to do with the XX chromosomes eh? lol. Mom is not one that particularly likes baking. She easily gets impatient when it comes to baking. These beehive cookies are probably the only type of cookies that I have seen her making in our kitchen, apart from a couple of other cakes all of which are specialties of hers. So some years when mom's into the cookie-making mood, we'll be having this readily in the kitchen. Other years, we would just buy them!
This brass mould was a real treasure of my maternal grandma. It was passed down to mom for a good decade or two and when I moved here, mom made sure I brought it along with me. So old it sure is. But with it you can see how sturdy, strongly built, precious and especially meaningful it is to me. And of utmost importance, it never disappoints! So good I have never really considered looking for a brand new, shiny, perfectly polished moulds in the market even if that means that I can expect to spend a lot of time working with just one mould in hand.
As much as we both love this, we couldn't help rambling and grumbling each time we had to buy these cookies. Well yet we did it time after time, again and again lol. For some really basic and simple ingredients used in its making, the hefty price printed on the price tags do make it a little hard a fact to accept. But then again I have to agree; they do have good reasons to be so well priced after all.
Making this is like a battle against the heat. Physically you will have to endure the heat as you stand in front of the wok patiently frying them away - another reason it always drives mom away from the idea of making this back at home. I was spared the agony here; the freezing cold weather outside made it all so nice for me to be working with some heat indoor. And then comes the battle of heat between the batter and the oil. You will have to spend a moment experimenting in the beginning and adjusting thereon. I made 44 pieces in total in this batch; 3 got beyond recognition (way too browned - the hot oil won hands down intimidating the batter lol); another 2 was kind of lacking in presentation and appearance (the batter and oil started getting used to one another nevertheless lol). But once you have managed to reach that equilibrium between them, the rest of the story is about maintaining the flow and keep the connection steady in between the two.
This is my fourth time making these beehive cookies and it comes with plenty of trials and errors going on still. Using a recipe I adapted from My Kitchen Snippets on her post on Kueh Rose/Kueh Goyang this time around with just some minor adjustments, this recipe is by far the best recipe that has given me a batch of beehive cookies that really look like what their name suggests lol, not forgetting the promised crunch and mouthfeel that come in a package. Look out for the few extra notes that I penned down alongside the methods as they get laid out. Some simple points, but they are exactly the little details I will usually pay attention to for a batch of nicely shaped beehive cookies (although I do tend to forget them myself and thus a need for some self-reminder here).
Friday, February 1, 2013
Woohoo, let the baking fun continue! Homemade Pineapple Jam - checked! Patience recharged overnight - checked! Baking motivation still intact - checked! Checked! lol. And now it's time to get the tarts rolled up! Another recipe from Wendy at Table for 2.....or More which she in turn had adapted from this recipe, you get just what the name promised - pineapple tarts that simply melt in your mouth!
To deal with a dough that has got the cream cheese and the whipping cream in it is not one that I'm familiar with. But I guess they are there to serve their ultimate purpose. The tarts are soft, fluffy, creamy and rich but not overly so, flaky and simply pretty and elegant to look at! Heavy on the diet yes, but hey, it's Chinese New Year! What can be a better time to let your guard down temporarily and indulge away? Lets just deal with that diet issue a bit later. Sign up for some runs! I had! So by hook or by crook, these extra calories will have to go sometime after the New Year! *evil laugh* lol.
Let's get the baking started!